(JTA) — Bret Stephens has left Twitter abruptly, apparently motivated by a spat with a George Washington University professor on the social media platform.
“Time to do what I long ago promised to do,” The New York Times opinion columnist tweeted Tuesday morning before deactivating his account. “Twitter is a sewer. It brings out the worst in humanity. I sincerely apologize for any part I’ve played in making it worse, and to anyone I’ve ever hurt.”
The episode started after an internal Times memo was leaked on Monday saying that bedbugs were seen in the newsroom. The New York Post reported that multiple areas in the paper’s building were evacuated and cleaned.
Later in the afternoon, David Karpf, an associate professor of media and public affairs at GW, joined the many who had tweeted about the insect issue.
“The bedbugs are a metaphor,” Karpf wrote. “The bedbugs are Bret Stephens.”
The Washington Post reported that Karpf’s tweet had about nine likes (and zero retweets) — indicating few had read it — until Stephens responded.
Stephens sent Karpf an email, and copied the school’s provost, The Washington Post reported.
“I’m often amazed about the things supposedly decent people are prepared to say about other people — people they’ve never met — on Twitter. I think you’ve set a new standard,” Stephens wrote. “I would welcome the opportunity for you to come to my home, meet my wife and kids, talk to us for a few minutes, and then call me a ‘bedbug’ to my face. That would take some genuine courage and intellectual integrity on your part.”
Karpf’s tweets, including one with a screenshot of Stephens’ email, subsequently went semi-viral. Many commenters said Stephens, who regularly writes in support of free speech on campus, had over-reacted, especially in alerting Karpf’s employer.
Asked for further comment by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on Tuesday, Stephens sent only a link to a June 2018 article he wrote for The Times titled “‘Tell Them I Was Not Afraid’” that details a memoir by Holocaust survivor Raya Mazin, his maternal grandmother’s first cousin. While most of Mazin’s family was murdered during the war, she and her future husband escaped from their hometown of Riga, Latvia, under heavy fire from German soldiers.
Stephens used the story to critique comments by Alexander Gauland, a co-leader of the far-right German Alternative for Germany, or AFD, party. Gauland had said “Hitler and the Nazis are just a speck of bird shit in over 1,000 years of successful German history.”
“I needed to learn anew just what that ‘speck’ had meant for my extended family,” Stephens wrote.
No mention of bed bugs — though perhaps Stephens was comparing Karpf’s words to a Nazi slur.
He also told The Washington Post that his email to Karpf “speaks for itself.”
Stephens, a conservative on the predominantly liberal opinion pages of The Times, has often been a lightning rod for left-leaning and pro-Palestinian criticism. A frequent critic of Donald Trump, he has also been attacked from the right. Before winning a Pulitzer Prize for commentary at The Wall Street Journal, Stephens was editor of The Jerusalem Post.